An Illustration of China’s “Paradoxical Soft Power”: The Dissemination of the Gambling Game Fantan (番攤) by the Cantonese Diaspora, 1850–1950

Paulès, Xavier (包利威). An illustration of China’s “paradoxical soft power”: the dissemination of the gambling game fantan (番攤) by the Cantonese diaspora, 1850–1950 (中國「匪夷所思的軟實力」:一八五零至一九五零年之間粵僑博奕遊戲「番攤」在海外傳播的例子). Translocal Chinese : East Asian Perspectives, 2017, vol. 11, n° 2, pp. 187-207. DOI: 10.1163/24522015-01102002.


This article investigates the dissemination of fantan (番攤), a very popular gambling game, during the period 1850–1950, by the Cantonese diaspora. It insists that fantan should not be considered only socially destructive as, by different means, it turned out to be instrumental in reinforcing the cohesiveness of the overseas Cantonese communities. Fantan was also one of the Chinese games that crossed the boundaries of the diaspora to take root in the local population in certain countries, though this was not the case everywhere. In the USA, for example, it remained an exotic oddity in the eyes of the local people. In the cases of Vietnam and Philippines, the local population emulated the Chinese and took up this game which was given a local name. The dissemination of fantan is one typical manifestation of the “paradoxical soft power of China”: despite China’s relative weakness during that time, its cultural influence, as a consequence of the development of the diaspora, greatly extended overseas.


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Translocal Chinese : East Asian Perspectives (Sommaire du vol. 11, n° 2 (2017)

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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